DeepSoul Salutes Babyface: Midnight Star - "Slow Jam"

DeepSoul's salute to Babyface continues with one of his earliest compositions.
  |   Comments

One of Babyface's earliest compositions, "Slow Jam" became a quiet storm classic for 1980s soul fans.  A cut off Midnight Star's 1983 album No Parking on the Dance Floor, it was never officially released as a single.  Yet the song gained R&B radio airplay, becoming a concert favorite and a must-have for any school dance.  Listening to the track today, it may not be immediately evident that Babyface had any involvement.  However, the smooth quality, melody, unabashedly romantic lyrics, and 70s soul vibe all became the producer/singer/songwriter's trademarks.  

Midnight Star was formed at Kentucky State University in 1976 by brothers Reginald and Vincent Calloway (trumpet and trombone, respectively) as well as vocalist Belinda Lipscomb. The funk band earned a reputation for their live shows, spurring Sonar Records to sign them to the label in the early 1980s.  By this time Midnight Star had gained new members: guitarist Melvin Gentry, bassist Kenneth Gant, drummer Bobby Lovelace, and keyboard player Bo Watson.  After attracting attention with early singles like "Hot Spot" and "I've Been Watching You," the band struck gold with their third full-length album No Parking on the Dance Floor.  The 1983 release showcased their synth-funk chops to full effect, scoring the classic R&B hits "Freak-a-Zoid" and the infectious (and somewhat humorous) title track.  

Initially buried on No Parking on the Dance Floor was "Slow Jam," a ballad much of the band co-wrote with newcomer Babyface.  As AllMusic's Andrew Hamilton writes, it became "the urban red-light special of 1983" and "a phat slice of hot sticky soul that remains a staple of quiet storm radio programming."  Indeed, select R&B stations began airing the track, despite the fact that "Slow Jam" was never released as a single.  It became such a beloved classic among fans, however, that it transformed into a common pop culture reference.  Almost 20 years later, Jamie Foxx worked it into a routine during his 2002 standup comedy special Unleashed.  

"Slow Jam" functions as a dialogue between a man and woman, a conversation that virtually anyone can relate to.  As the song begins, the man's voice softly asks the question "excuse me, may I have this dance?"  He then launches into his story, the wide-ranging melody lingering throughout.  He explains he was "feeling rather low" while standing alone at the club, and that he "needed someone to lift my spirits up."  After spotting a woman across the room, he charmingly asks her "for her hand" and she gladly accepts.  Interestingly the music assumes a major role in the tale, as it enables the couple to fall in love.  They surrender to the "slow jam's" power, and the chorus implores the DJ to "play another slow jam, this time make it sweet / A slow jam for my baby and me."  

The second half of the song presents the woman's perspective, as she makes it clear that she feels the same way.  "When you touched my hand I knew you were the man / To turn my world around and make my dreams come true," Lipscomb croons. She looks in his eyes, the music plays, and she realizes that "everything I feel has got to be real."  As the entire band harmonizes on the chorus, they reiterate that the enchantment that music (specifically slow jams) creates can sway emotion and alter lives.  

Babyface's lyrics typically celebrate romance, casting a soft focus on a love scene.  While he has penned darker tracks--as on his most recent release Love, Marriage & Divorce with Toni Braxton--he frequently tells stories of love and longing, such as early ballads such as "Whip Appeal" and his biggest hit "When Can I See You."  Babyface also contributed guitar on the track, but "Slow Jam" became a significant song in his career for another reason.  The Calloway brothers introduced the emerging singer/songwriter to executives at Solar Records, and as a result of this collaboration the Calloways produced Babyface's album with his first group: the Deele.  That move began another important stage of Babyface's career: transitioning from songwriter to performer.